By: Benjamin Cole
In this week's Evolve Blog we're going to cover a topic that many people may not know a lot about--stretching. When to do it, when not to do it, and the few different ways you can stretch properly for your workouts, recovery, and general wellbeing. We're going to have to dive into some industry jargon first, so bear with me. By the way, if you didn't know, at Evolve Fitness Studios we have weekly group classes for broga, a strength-based yoga routine for everyone that will teach you all you need to about stretching :)
First, an anatomy lesson.
The idea that static stretching before vigorous exercise or strength training is detrimental to total output and might even increase risk of injury has gained significant traction in recent years. It use to be that if you're going to workout out you should always stretch, after all, that makes intuitive sense. You are indeed warming up muscles when you stretch. However, what was taken for granted is the elastic-like effect that makes muscles work well is reduced when muscles are overstretched. Let me explain.
Muscles pull from origin to insertion, that is, from where a muscle originates on a bone site to where it inserts. Your biceps, for example, originates at the coracoid process of the scapula (deep shoulder) and inserts at the radial tuberosity, a notch on your radius (one of your forearm bones!). So when you perform a curl you are 'pulling' your forearm towards your shoulder. This occurs from sarcomeres shortening, which are little units of muscle fibers that make the show work, to put it simply.
To move a weight efficiently and effectively sarcomeres shorten and tighten the muscle like a very hard cord between origin and insertion sites. When muscles do the opposite and lengthen in the eccentric portion of a movement, they are still holding a tremendous amount of tension. You can imagine this somewhat like a rubber band, but not exactly. Biochemical interactions between actin and myosin make this process possible.
Whereas a rubber band stores potential energy when it is lengthened, muscles hold the same in isometric and lengthened positions, awaiting signals for contraction and movement.
The point is significant tension make the movement possible. When you stretch the intention generally is to stimulate the Golgi tendon organ (GTO)--the sensory neuron at the end of a muscle that regulates muscle tension--so that it will relax and allow more blood flow into the muscles. This would be antithetical to, say, a heavy compound movement.
An example: if you stretch your quads for 15-20 seconds twice before hopping into a 1RM squat, you won't be in good shape. The muscle that has to hold huge tension to move that weight has been greatly lengthened before having to dynamically shorten and lengthen under load.
I sort of get it. Can you just tell me when & how to stretch?
Yeah, I get it. Anatomy :/ Anyway, put succinctly, you don't want to static stretch too much, if at all, before weightlifting. Static stretching is when you hold a position for a few seconds to get that GTO effect I mentioned. Same with cardio, like running: the muscles involved in a run rely on the bouncy and rubbery effect of the muscles to move efficiently and easily.
If muscles are too lengthened they A) won't be able to hold right tension under heavy load, and B) maintain their rubbery effect to contract and relax for fluid movement.
"When do I stretch then?!" Well, we haven't even gotten to dynamic stretching! That's where you actively take a body part or movement through it's usual range of motion not by force but as it will. Leg swings are perfect examples. They bring awareness and blood flow to that area. Some light leg swings before that squatting session or run would do you great.
Static stretching should be reserved for rest days or post workout. Stretching to stimulate that GTO will allow the muscle to relax and infuse more blood into the muscle, helping with recovery and that nice 'ahh' feeling after a good stretch.
Going for a run? Some leg swings and heal-to-rears will be great. Hitting a PR for shoulder press? Don't static stretch--some light windmills and shoulder circles will get you plenty warm. Sore after a tough workout? Static stretch to bring blood into the areas for recovery.
I hope I didn't bore or lose you with the anatomy. I wanted to lay the foundation so you'd leave with a good sense of what's happening when a muscle moves so that it makes sense why you shouldn't static stretch before a workout. Or, you could always book a session with one of our stellar trainers or PTs that will teach you all you need to know :)
Now go lift well!
Evolve Fitness Studios
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